A recent survey sheds light on the low-flow toilet debate.

Every time Congressman Knollenberg trashes 1.6-gallon-per-flush water closets, you hear anecdotal comments that old water closets are better and your customers hate flushing with 1.6 gallons of water. Anecdotal is one of those $10 words that means people make up their comments. In other words, there is nothing reliable in these statements.

I prefer to base my comments on facts. What does the public really think about 1.6-gpf water closets? I am more interested in the majority, as opposed to a few loudmouths in the minority.

Well, I just received a copy of a report on the public's perception of 1.6-gpf water closets. This report was published by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. The study is a very scientific survey of 1,300 consumers who have had new 1.6-gpf water closets installed within the past two years. All of the water closets replaced older 3.5-gpf units.

Let me further define the parameters of this study to lend credibility to the results. Thirteen water closets, manufactured by 11 different companies, were installed in the homes surveyed. All of the water closets were classified as low end (from the cost standpoint). All but one of the water closets were two-piece (tank and bowl), gravity, round-front water closets. None of the water closets were pressure-assist or flushometer-type water closets. Additionally, not every major manufacturer was involved in the study.

Survey Results

he bottom line of this study is that the consumers accept 1.6-gpf water closets. Not only do consumers accept them, the participants in the survey prefer their new water closet to the older 3.5-gpf water closet.

The consumers were asked to rate their water closet on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being excellent. The average rating for all of the water closets was better than 7.4. By all accounts, this is a very high rating. The lowest overall rating was 5.9.

Approximately four years ago, a similar survey was conducted on 1.6-gpf water closets. In that study, a rating of 5.9 would have been phenomenal. However, with this new study, we consider it a low score. Realize that in the previous study the ratings ranged from 3.6 to 4.46. Hence, in four years time the level of acceptance (and the quality of the water closets) has increased significantly.

What is interesting to observe is the variety of responses for the same model of water closet. All of the water closets receiving the highest rating also received scores of 1 to 3 in the survey. That means that there is still a percentage of people who do not like 1.6-gpf water closets. Those rating their water closet 1 to 3 accounted for less than 9 percent of the respondents. On the flip side, more than 61 percent rated their 1.6-gpf water closet 8 to 10.

One of the many questions asked was how often their new water closet clogged compared to their old unit. More than half said the new water closets clog less than their 3.5. Furthermore, more than 80 percent responded that their new water closet clogged the same or less than the previous water closet did.

Double flushing also occurs much less than everyone is led to believe. The concern with the group conducting the study was that a single question regarding double flushing would prompt a response that may not be accurate. Therefore, they asked several questions about cleaning the bowl with one flush, removing the marks from solid waste, and the removal of solid waste. More than 60 percent responded that they either never double flush, or double flush once a month. That's not bad when you think of all of the water saved during that month.

One of the true indicators in the survey was the question relating to preferences. The survey asked which water closet they prefer, the 3.5-gpf or the 1.6-gpf, with the option of "like them the same." More than 80 percent responded that they either like their new water closet better or the same. That means a much smaller segment of the population prefers the older 3.5-gpf water closets than some politicians would have you believe.

Strong Endorsement

he overwhelming majority said they would recommend the new 1.6-gpf water closet to a friend. That is a strong endorsement. They also favored having rebate programs to encourage the installation of 1.6-gpf water closets.

I consider these survey results to be vindication for the manufacturers. From all indications, the quality of 1.6-gpf water closets is very high. While there have been some bumps in the road, manufacturers have figured out how to flush with 1.6 gallons of water. Not only have they figured it out, they are making a better quality water closet than the previous 3.5-gpf models. As the survey clearly indicates, there is no need to return to 3.5-gpf water closets.

When your customers ask about the performance of the new 1.6-gpf water closets, you will be able to respond that the scientific studies have found that the great majority of the public likes the newer water closets better than the old 3.5-gpf models. The notion that most Americans do not like the 1.6-gpf water closets is unfounded.

My only hope is that this survey is passed on to our politicians. As many of you know, politicians live and die by polls. Congress has more important issues to deal with than changing the water closet flush rate. Perhaps the Knollenberg bill will finally die and we can move on to more important matters in the plumbing industry.